“Do I have the IQ to be a girl working in tech?” – Gender equality in Romania starts with changes in norms, attitudes and behaviour (video)

“Do I have the IQ to be a girl working in tech?” – Gender equality in Romania starts with changes in norms, attitudes and behaviour (video)

In order to reach gender equality in Romania, women need to be supported and encouraged to actively participate in the country’s politics and economy. For this to happen, people need to change their mentality about women’s role in society. “Just adding a few more women to the board of a company will not do the trick – it’s about changing the attitudes, norms and behaviours of each member of society,” says Her Excellency Therese Hydén, Ambassador of Sweden in Romania.

Through our webinar, “Women in Leadership/Tech Driving Change in the Workplace,” we wanted to mark and honour International Women’s Day 2021. We spoke to – among others – Her Excellency Therese Hydén, Elisabeta Moraru, Country Manager at Google, and Violeta Nenita, CEO at IKEA Romania about gender equality and female leadership in Romania. Find below the highlights of our conversation:

  • Although gender equality has improved in Romania, especially when it comes to health, the country continues to rank low on the European Gender Equality Index.
  • There is a wide gender gap for economic and political participation in Romania, which can only be improved through changes of norms, attitudes and behaviour.
  • Young women feel inferior to men, halting their motivation to seek a career in traditionally male-dominated industries such as technology.  
  • Girl in Tech Romania, a charity empowering girls and women to pursue a career in technology, has reached out to 770 young girls aged 14 to 16 and 500 mature women since November. The organization has provided basic digital skills workshops and invited inspirational female leaders from the tech industry to speak to the girls and women.
  • IKEA Romania has reached a 50/50 level of gender representation in the company’s leadership position, ahead of the 2022 deadline for this goal.

75-year anniversary of women’s suffrage in Romania: where do we stand on gender equality?

Her Excellency Therese Hydén: The human race is millions of years old, so democratic and other political systems are not that old by comparison. Still, the concept of holding power is as old as humans and for many years power has been a male-dominated sphere. Empowerment, including women’s empowerment, starts with knowing your rights and acting on them. In Romania, women were first able to vote 75 years ago – the equivalent of a person’s lifetime nowadays.

The gender gap index shows that the gap is closing on issues such as work and health but there is still a wide gap in politics and the economy. This is especially the case in Romania, which finds itself at the bottom of the gender gap list for European countries. In Romania, the gender gap remains large when it comes to economic and political participation. In the economic and political field that power still rests with males, so we do need to increase female participation. If our future is shaped by only 50% of the population, then we will not have innovation.

Why is there still no gender parity? This comes down to the norms, attitudes and behaviours of society. Just adding a few more women to the board of a company will not do the trick – it’s about changing the attitudes, norms and behaviours of each member of society.

Women in tech: changing norms, attitudes and behaviours through education

Elisabeta Moraru: In my upbringing, I had a huge role model in my mother. She was a very strong leader of the household and of her life, so I’ve never doubted whether I should be a leader or not and I took that mentality for granted. But I saw some statistics that changed my perspective on this, let me just share some with you and you’ll see why we should all change our perspective on this topic.

A woman will apply for a job only when she has 99% of the requirements met while men will apply even if they meet only 60% of the requirements. Also, only 7% of women negotiate their salary.

The trouble with this lack of confidence in women is that it will widen the gender gap. So now I want to talk about a project that is very dear to me, whose aim is to tackle these issues. It’s called Girls in Tech and we have been running this project for more than seven years now. Altogether, we have reached out to around 6, 100 girls and women over the years. Before the pandemic, we would get girls together in a classroom and teach them computational logic and other skills needed to work in tech, but with the pandemic, we have had to innovate. So since November, we organise online workshops where we invited interns, strong leaders from the tech community doing various roles, not just programming. We invited both girls and their mothers to participate in these workshops.

Altogether, 770 young girls aged 14 to 16 and 500 mature women participated. Most of them did not come from Bucharest, the capital of Romania, but from smaller towns around the country. For the mothers, we brought in a specialist to teach our mums how to get their CVs updated given the pandemic, we taught them some basic digital skills, because we reckon that many of the jobs nowadays need digital skills.

Throughout the seminars, the girls asked us lots of questions about working in tech, here are some examples: Could girls have a career in tech and be successful? What qualities should a woman have to have a career in tech? Do I have the necessary IQ as a girl to work in programming? That last question stuck with me since November and it shows that our girls consider themselves inferior to boys.

That question was profound for me and has made me want to double my efforts in helping women change their mentality about working in tech.

Best advice ever given: Empower others

Violeta Nenita: The best advice I was ever given is to empower others. If you manage to do that, then the sky’s the limit. At IKEA Romania, we stand for equality for everyone, which reflects Swedish norms. For us, gender equality is about creating an inclusive culture, an inclusive environment. Both women and men need to be valued in such an environment. We integrate gender equality in the culture by focusing on having more women in predominantly male-dominated roles and more men in predominantly female-dominated roles. It is important to share and talk about gender equality, but it is vital to create opportunities for it too.

So, we make sure we have an equal representation of both women and men in leadership positions and IKEA is committed to reaching the 50/50 level of gender representation by 2022. In Romania, I am pleased to say that we have succeeded in this. We have reached the 50/50 level, where we have 88 female leaders and 88 male leaders in the company.

Watch the full webinar here: